Listen to this podcast Ep. 158: Turning Passion into Profit: Building a Thriving Craft-Based Business With Angie Wilson

Interviews, strategy and advice for building your online business with your host Trudy Rankin.

Trudy Rankin: Welcome to the Online Business Launchpad podcast. I'm your host, Trudy Rankin, and today I'm talking with Angie Wilson from Gnome Angel.

Now, I often talk to lots of people who run businesses where the products that they have are digital products, and I just thought it would be so much fun to talk with somebody who's running what I would call more of a craft space business, and it's still… teaching is still digital products; the work is based around a craft model, and Angie actually focuses on helping people learn how to do quilts, make quilts, create quilts, and do all kinds of things with quilts.

And I have a bit of an interest- not myself personally, because I'm just not that much of a sewer-but my stepmother loves to quilt, to make quilts, and to do things in that space. And my daughter is really creative when it comes to just doing anything with her hands. So, I just thought that it would be so much fun to have Angie on the podcast, and thankfully, she said yes. So thank you for being on the podcast, Angie, and welcome.

Angie Wilson: Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

Trudy Rankin: So, just to dive straight into what we are going to talk about today, I was looking at your website, and it's just fantastic.

Angie Wilson: Thank you.

Trudy Rankin: It's vibrant, it's alive, it's actually clear and quite informative, and I'll put the links to your website in the show notes for later on. But as I was looking through that, I was thinking, Wow, you've been doing this for a while to be able to get to this. Place where your website is as sophisticated and well laid out as it is, and I would just like it if you would just share with people: what did you do before you became Gnome Angel, and how did this whole business start?

The Transition From Hobby to Full-time Business

Angie Wilson: That is a long and winding question. So, I started blogging on Live Journal in 2002, and if anyone's familiar with the movie about Facebook, that's the same year that Mark Zuckerberg started on Live Journal. He obviously went on to do big things. Me, not so much. I had moved from my hometown of Townsville, north Queensland, and moved to Canberra because I worked with the federal government at the time.

And it was that thing where if you wanted to progress, you had to move to the Capitol. And so I moved down there. I've written a journal since I was like 15. And a friend of mine said, Oh, you should try this online journaling thing called blogging. And I was like, all right. And so I started writing as a way of capturing my mood, and what I was thinking about and all of this sort of stuff.

And I met such an amazing group of people through that experience. And in 2008, I bought my own domain name, moved off the Live journal platform, and moved the blog onto a WordPress site that I hosted myself. It's still on WordPress, and I continued to write about my life, and that's what I did.

And it resonated with people, and I got a bit of an audience and opportunities to do things through that website. And in 2000, and how old is he now? 11, or, I think, maybe in 2010. In 2010, we were definitely going through IVF, and I was like most people on the internet, looking for IVF advice and everything like that.

I was writing about IVF and that really hit a note with people. And at the time I was doing that, My doctor said to me, you are really stressed. You need a hobby. And my grandmother had just moved into assisted living. I had failed home economics in high school. I didn't own a sewing machine. I showed no interest in sewing.

And she said, I'm going into this assisted living. How would you like my sewing machine? And I was like, sure. And she sent it down, and it sat there for a bit. And then, when the doctor said, You need a hobby, I thought, Oh, I might use that sewing machine. And I had always loved quilts in movies and TV shows.

Growing up in the tropics, there was obviously no requirement for a quilt, but I loved the idea of having something that I could hand down that would be generational, that my children, if we were ever lucky enough to have any, would be able to pass them on and gift them to people, and all that sort of stuff.

So, I took a beginner's quilt course, and on the third lesson, the teacher said to me, You know what? Maybe you should stick with scrapbooking. I don't think this is for you but a good thing for her. I went to a different teacher, stopped going to that class, went to a different teacher, stuck with it, and the blog morphed into this storytelling of my quilting adventure. And then we were fortunate enough to conceive our son. And so, when he came along, I became very protective, and I didn't want to share anymore about anything that could identify him, so I shut down that family and personal side of the blog and really focused on the patchwork quilting, which really resonated with people.

I was with the federal government, and I had a bit of time up my sleeve. I took a very extended maternity leave. Period. And so I was able to grow the business and it's online presence while I was on maternity leave. And I didn't do it with the thought of, Oh, I'll never go back to the government again.

This is going to be my job. But at the end of those three years, I went Oh, you know what? I don't have to go back. I could do this. And that meant that I was at home with him. He didn't have to go into childcare; we could be there for that family because he's the only one we've got and the only one we'll ever have.

It was really about focusing on that family experience, and the blog and website shop just morphed in and filled the gaps in that dynamic. So that's a very long way of saying that's how I ended up here.

Trudy Rankin: I think it's interesting, though, because I know for a lot of women and for a lot of guys as well, but it seems to be more common with women.

We take this meandering path to our eventual true career. If I want to, call it that. Because we tend to go through various careers. And you know it- that can include the career of being a stay-at-home parent. It can mean doing something completely different to what you went to university for, whatever.

It's just really interesting. And so, you did mention that you had worked for the federal government. And since you were a parent and you were doing this as a kind of hobby and things like that, how did you find it in terms of juggling everything to do all those things?

The Ongoing Struggle of Balancing Work and Family

Angie Wilson: I would cry myself to sleep at night, thinking, I'm the world's worst parent because I didn't make time for this. I guess I think of it as being really selfish because I left a really well-paying job to do what I love. And while I said I did it to stay home, be there, and all of that, I still worked a lot.

I always admire men and I'm sure there are women out there that do it as well, that seem to just be able to shut down and switch off from family and go, I'm going to go out there and absolutely dominate and work 24/7 and build this big empire. And then I'll focus on my family.
And I think I really struggled with That's my family; I should be in there wanting to do that. But I also had this baby that I was building out here and really wanted to do, and I would love to say that I found the perfect solution and I know the key to balancing it all, but I don't; I still have that same thing, kids 11 now. I just turned 11, and I still feel guilty.

He'll go, mum. Are you coming in? And I'm like, I just need to send this email 20 minutes later. Oh yeah. So I didn't; the short answer is I didn't, and I quit one job to focus on another job and part of the other job. And I'm sure he will be in therapy when he is in his twenties. You were never there for me.

But I know. That I'm there for him. Way more than I would've been if I was in a structured nine-to-five executive job with the government because I was pulling big hours in there.
Trudy Rankin: It's such a dilemma, isn't it? There's that whole thing around mother's guilt, and I know what you're talking about in terms of that feeling of being stretched sort of three different ways, or because it's not just your kid, it's your partner.

As well as your family, the rest of your family, and all those sorts of things. There is no perfect answer for anyone. It's a juggling act every single hour of every single day about how you're going to choose to spend your time. Yeah. And all you can hope for at the end of the day is that you've got those choices right most of the time.

So, you haven't totally and utterly screwed up either yourself, them, or whatever. Because I've been there. I ‘ve been there because I've been down that path. And I know that our listeners will be going, Yep, we get it. So, talk a little bit about what you're doing now. Talk a little bit about Gnome Angel.

What is it, and how do you work with people? What do you help them do?

The Template-based Quilting Business

Angie Wilson: Okay, so Gnome Angel is primarily about teaching a certain type of patchwork. We call it the template-based method. I have written a book on a certain way that I do it, and so we teach that. And then it's that thing where we provide all of the accoutrements for them to be able to do it.

So, we sell fabric, we sell the templates themselves, all of that sort of stuff that they need to be able to do it that I use and would recommend because I don't believe in selling just everything. And then, through that, I also do onsite teaching. We've just come back from a cruise through the Panama Canal.

And we're going to do one at Christmas time from Singapore to Bali as well. And then as you said, those digital products. So, we sell digital PDF patterns. I do online classes. We have an online community where people can come in and meet each other and share their love of creativity.

And so, for me, it's really about empowering people to be the quilters that they want to be. Because it's so easy nowadays to get caught up in the social media trap of I'm not that kind of quilter, so my quilts aren't worth valued, worthwhile, valuable. And I think that's a lot of hogwash, and everyone's got a unique voice, so they should be comfortable sharing their unique voice.

They might not be the quilts that I want to make, but the world is better because that person made that quilt. It's really about supporting them and empowering them to do what they love. And find the time for it and make the time.

Trudy Rankin: Absolutely. As you were talking, my mind flashed back to when my my mother-in-law was also a keen quilter and she also used to spin and dye her own wool and stuff like that.

So, creative. And for each of our children, she made this little quilted pillow thing that you used to stuff your pyjamas in. And you just leave it on your bed. And both of my kids still have those quilted, beautiful mementoes of their grandmother.

And they keep them in a place where they can see them. And so, for your people who are going, I'm no good at this. Nobody's going to care about what I make. Actually, people do care because they make beautiful gifts. They make beautiful mementoes of the care and effort that you've put into making something for someone that you love, and it's just such a beautiful thing.

I have to ask you this because you've just mentioned it so casually, and I'm going. Really onsite teaching cruises, you actually get to go and teach people on a cruise. Tell me about it. First of all, I would like to know how did you get into that, and secondly, what is it?

Angie's Journey Into Teaching Quilting On Cruise Ships

Angie Wilson: A fellow member of the industry asked me if I wanted to go do one with her, and she said, I'm teaching on this cruise through the Panama Canal.

Would you like to come with me? And I went, yeah and in my head, I was like, I can't wait to see the pyramids. And I was thinking of the Suez Canal, not the Panama Canal, because I'm totally geographically challenged. And. So we did it. We've only, just come back from that, and it was like 15 nights on a cruise.

We flew to America, left Fort Lauderdale, went down through the Caribbean, passed Cuba. We stopped in five countries through Central America on the way back up, and then stopped in LA, and we flew home from LA. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, and I had the pleasure of doing it with my mother who now works in the business part-time.

It's a very cool experience to have that relationship here as well. And it was just mind-blowing. If someone had said to me, You are going to love cruising, I would've just gone. You are nuts. I cannot think of anything worse than being in a tin can floating in the middle of the ocean.

And it was. Amazing. It was like a luxury hotel. You woke up every morning to amazing views. We saw whales and dolphins, and just the people were amazing. The staff were really friendly. The class participants were really lovely. It was just the best experience. The teaching side of it is really unique because you are sewing on something that is moving.

Wasn't too big an issue. We hit swell one day, and our tech guy, the sewing machine guy, actually threw up because he was looking down while trying to fix the sewing machine, and the ship was going like this just gently. And it was too much. So, we gave him heaps for the remainder of the cruise about it.

It was just really lovely. It's like teaching anywhere, but the scenery is ever changing, and I can't wait to do it again. We've got one at Christmas time, and then we've got another transatlantic coming up next year. Just really lovely.

Trudy Rankin: I can't imagine a more enjoyable combination than being able to travel. See new sites and get paid to do the whole thing as a package. You get to take your family with you. And my mind's boggling here a little bit because my husband and I did our first cruise before the pandemic. And we didn't think we were going to like it that much either.

And we actually liked it. We really enjoyed it. It's just really fascinating business model for you and a way of sharing what you do with other people that's outside of your normal business model. That's just really fascinating.

I want to ask a little bit of a follow-up question to what we were talking about a little bit earlier, and you mentioned that you sell fabrics as well. As part of your business model, I'm interested in just exploring a little bit more what it's like to have a hybrid model where you've basically got digital courses and a community, but you're also selling physical products. How does that kind of work for you in terms of managing the whole thing?

How Family Became Involved In Business And Financial Decisions

Angie Wilson: Have you seen that gif of Kermit the Frog with the arms going and he runs across and then he runs back? It's a bit like that.

This is going to give away part of my answer to what I'm assuming will be a future question about what advice I would give someone who was starting, but I am a creative; I work totally from the creative space in my brain. And when I went into business, the financials really held no joy for me, and we had really good-paying jobs.

My husband still has a really well-paying job. So there was no financial incentive to make the business financially viable right away. And I grew up in a house where my parents ran their own business for 40 or so years. And my mum is the money person, and my dad is a bit like me but has morphed into more of a money person over the years, and he would always go to me.

What's your business plan? And they're like. What shift financial projections for the next have you done your Bass? And I went into this without fully understanding the implications of how much money is currently sitting behind me. So, we've talked about it a lot now since mum came into the business.

By the grace of God, it's financial. But it could have been making a lot more money at this time. And my dad is often fond of saying. If you're not making money, it's just a hobby, and you could be doing other things. The fabric is, the downside of the fabric is it's cost heavy, so you've got to pay to get it.

And we run a business where we don't like to use credit, so you have to have that money there to buy the stock. It needs to be stored, so you have to have a space to store it. It is dependent on Australia Post, and I'll leave that one with you. And. It is very seasonal. So fabric, much like fashion, has a shelf life, so you have to be turning it over.

And I didn't realise when I came into it that a successful business would turn over it's stock four times a year. And so I was like. That's a lot of fabric to sell. And when you're a one-person band, that is a lot of work to do to keep that momentum going. The plus side of it is that I get to play with the fabric whenever I want, and I can use it in all the stuff I want.

I get to buy whatever I love. So it's all stuff I would use. I really get a kick out of seeing people come in and purchase the fabric, look at it, and see what they love and how they use it. None of that is obviously a financial return. The margin on it isn't too bad, but again, the margin on digital products is way better.

So, that's the stock side of things; the digital products have the downside that they're very labour-intensive. We actually have a graphic designer that we contract to do the production of all of that because I can only do so much. And she's amazing. So, we have a very consistent image across everything that we do, thanks to her.

They are labour-intensive and expensive upfront, but they pay themselves off a lot quicker. There is minimal overhead in digital. Unlike this stuff, I can do digital work from anywhere in the world. The downside with digital is that I have to do IT support, and I don't know whether you've ever tried to teach your grandma how to use a computer, but it ain't fun.
So I do that via email. It's not great. There are pluses and minuses to everything, but since I've got the financial wizard on the team now, she's very much in favour of doing more digital and less of this stuff. So, I think if I was starting again, I couldn't say that I would necessarily stock the fabric. But it's a hard one.

Trudy Rankin: It's interesting because I was wondering whether there were any issues with actually procuring the materials, especially when COVID was a thing and just being able to ship stuff from A to B was a problem.

Navigating Challenges and Opportunities During COVID-19

Angie Wilson: Where to start with COVID I wouldn't, and I know this sounds funny, but I wouldn't change COVID happening for the world like Covid really. Apart from all the deaths and people getting sick and all of that sort of stuff, obviously you don't wish any of that on anyone but the COVID.

Sped up the process of people getting used to doing things online. So, there was this major leap forwards across the population in how to shop online and accept that you could do things online. So, obviously, from an online business point of view, that was amazing. Covid helped us. My husband now works from home, and the government's more open to that, which meant that we could move back to North Queensland.

We were able to buy a property where my parents live on one half, and we live on the other. So we've got that family support, which I'd never had before in the business, so that's really weird. But COVID meant that there was a massive delay in getting materials that used to come within three months.

We're now taking 6, 8, and 12. So the first year of COVID, we couldn't get anything. You would order stuff but couldn't get it. We'd come in drips and drabs. So you were like marketing half a collection, or you couldn't get everything. And then there was this bit where, like, all the mills caught up and got their processes in line and caught up.

And we got this massive glut of fabric all at once, which from a business that didn't do credit, was huge. And then we had all of this stock that we wouldn't normally hold, we're now trying to get rid of, along with everybody else that's now trying to get rid of it. And so that was really difficult. And I remember at one stage, because we moved house, we moved into a new state, we did all of this big stuff.

And then that happened. And I remember crying and just going to my husband and saying, We're going to have to fold the business. I don't know how we're going to survive this. And then I slapped myself around a bit and I spoke to the financial team, and we went, all right, this is how we dig ourselves out of this situation.

And it's been a long slog to get back. I probably made things worse because I didn't understand financial forecasting, or cash flow or anything to do with money. So, COVID was interesting, and then Aussie Post: people love getting things in the mail. People hate when posts are delayed.

So, you've got to ride the ups and down s of customer service we've given to the postal provider. There's not much more I can do.

Trudy Rankin: That's a hard one because the delivery mechanism on the delivery side of the whole equation is completely out of your control.

So, that's kind of interesting. I want to ask one more question before we do get into a slightly different topic. And that is, you obviously create these designs, share them with people, get people to buy them, and things like that. Have you experimented with AI in any way?

I don't know whether it's chat, GPT, or any other kind of tool, mid-journey or whatever, to help with creating designs. Or do you see the AI side of things as a little bit of a potential threat to that part of your business?

How To Take Advantage of AI 

Angie Wilson: I try very hard not to see anything as a threat. Remember when social media first came along and people were like, Instagram's going to kill whatever?

I haven't used AI. And that's probably reflective of the fact that I'm too busy trying to keep everything else going. I have friends who've used it for things like caption writing, pattern writing, and stuff like that. I think, there's a place for it. I think like anything, it comes down to the intent of the person who's using it.

I do feel for those in the creative arts industry where AI can steal their signature style and replicate it. And I think that would be heartbreaking to see. It's bad enough now watching Target rip off someone's design off Etsy or something like that. So, I feel for them, but it's nothing new.

People have been stealing since the dawn of time again; how are they going to intentionally use the technology? I am just looking at something to help with customer service that's based on AI, and I think that would be a massive time saver if I can get it set up again, being the only person that's a bit difficult.

But, like anything, you just have to roll with it. If you get your nose out of joint about every new thing that comes along, you're going to burn so much energy that you could be doing the books, so your BAS is on time.

Trudy Rankin: Just for our non-Australian listeners, the BAS is the business activity statement that you have to give to our Australian taxation office on a fairly regular basis
so that they know how much GST you should be paying and how much of your PAYG, which is another acronym that we won't bother you with.

And a very important part of keeping a government and a country running, but it can be painful for small businesses when you're trying to do everything else as well.

I would like you to talk a little bit about what it was like for you back when you were sort of the beginning stages of your business. Not the total beginning stages of your business, but the place where you're starting to go.

Hang on, financials matter. Yes, we do have customers and stuff like that, and I'm trying to do everything. And it feels like a whole bundle of chaos, and you're juggling everything. If somebody was thinking about trying to either build a business or grow a business, like what you have, it's a mix of physical products, digital products, and trainings.

It could be community, it could be a mix, or it could be individual bits of that. What would be the most important thing that you could tell them? That's going to mean that they're going to be still around in a year's time or two years time.

Having A Brain Trust In Your Business Is Essential

Angie Wilson: Have a good group of friends. We call it the Brains Trust, but there are four or five of us that are in the same industry but do a little differently in the industry and that we share stuff with, bounce ideas off, and share our worst email of the day. So they're in the trenches with you. And so many good ideas have come from. This is going on. I don't know what to do here. And one of them will go, Oh, you should do this. Or sometimes you don't. See, we always joke, I can fix your business. I can't fix mine. You can always see what someone else should be doing, but you can't necessarily see what you should be doing.

So friendship is good for your mental health and good for your business health. Financials do matter. I think batching is a big, you really have to start time blocking and batching. And you don't have to be militant about it. But I try and batch as much as possible. I do all the photography in our business as well, so I get everything to a certain point, and then I'm like, right, I have to photograph that.

So, that requires setting everything up for photography. So, when you do that, you work smarter, not harder. And I guess the other thing is to be open to out-of-the box ways of solving problems and accept that, while you are the only person in your business, you are not the fountain of all knowledge.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to go looking for help. Don't be afraid to ask someone; email Pat Flynn or Gary V. Or whoever and ask them. You might not hear from them. You might hear from them. And so many opportunities in our business have come from just asking politely and with respect, and courteously. So, I guess it's about your attitude.

Trudy Rankin: I think that's so important, and yes, it's one of the things that I think is really helpful. I love the fact that you talked about this Brain's Trust because what we didn't mention at the beginning is that both you and I are part of SPI Pro, or Smart Passive Income Pro, which is Pat Flynn's community that he uses for people who've been doing business for a while to just basically help us grow and things like that.

And yes, you can reach out to people like that. People like him share so much about what they learned. They've shared their journeys and you can learn just by watching and observing. And it's just really beneficial. I know for myself that when I was starting out, if I hadn't had a group of people around me who were trying to do the same sort of thing that I was doing, I wouldn't have stuck with it.

I couldn't have stuck with it. I would've gone mad, and I would've said, this is too hard. And I had to smile because you're so right, because it's so easy for you to look at somebody else's business and go, Oh, you should do this and this. And then they look at yours, and they go, Oh, you should do this and this.

And you're going, Oh, but I don't know how to do that. It's fun being able to share, help, and collaborate. I think it's really good. I think it's great advice. If people were interested in learning more about your business and were interested in quilting, or even if they just wanted to connect with you, where would they go?

Angie Wilson: The website. So, My Instagram account, the shop-I'm everywhere. Drop me an email. [email protected] will get to us. I will respond; it might not be instantaneous. That's the only other thing. The website is really the main way of getting in contact. And then we're everywhere on social media.

Trudy Rankin: I'm just going to spell that out. It's actually For people who might not pick up the sound. So, it's Gnome Angel.

Angie Wilson: Because that's a really easy name for a business to have.

Trudy Rankin: Of course, we won't even talk about business names. We always pick the thing that we think is going to work, and then we regret it six days later when you have to type it out and take six minutes to type out your url.

Angie Wilson: And mine morphed from that, because that was the name of my live journal account, because someone gave me the nickname when we used to play on IRCs at university.

And I had no idea that this would turn into a business and that I would have to, with a straight face, say, Hi, I'm Angie from Gnome Angel in an elevator full of business people. And it has nothing to do with anything that we actually do. Sometimes you just roll into the name and then have to make it work.

Trudy Rankin: That's just classic. But it's so true. Angie, it's been fantastic having you on the podcast. Thank you for sharing. And people reach out. If you're interested in talking to Angie, reach out and just get in touch; it's just been fantastic. Thank you so much.

Angie Wilson: Thank you so much for having me.